URBANA — If Champaign County’s elected officials didn’t know before that a delay in the property-tax cycle this year had left school districts in a bind, they do now.
With a new school year getting underway this week and next, superintendents from nine area districts paid a visit to a county board meeting Tuesday, with two of them describing the budget hit they’ve sustained after 2018 property-tax bills were mailed a month later than usual.
As of Wednesday, Prairieview-Ogden Superintendent Vic White said he still didn’t have the answers from the county that he went looking for.
The county board “sat and listened and said, ‘We can’t answer you,’” he said.
The delay in the tax bill mailing meant first installment payments weren’t due until July 1, a month later than usual.
While some taxpayers may have welcomed an extra month to pay, that later first payment due date was also a day after school districts closed out their 2018 fiscal years — minus the property-tax disbursements they had expected to get about a month sooner.
County officials have said repeatedly that this year’s late tax bills were a combination of two factors — new software being installed at the county level and the Illinois Department of Revenue being late in assigning a final county multiplier needed to calculate the bills.
The entire collection system was new this year, according to Amy Foster, chief deputy in the county treasurer’s office.
“We did our best to try and get payments in and processed as quickly as possible,” she said Wednesday.
The kinks in the new software should be long resolved by next year’s tax cycle, Foster said. But the county can’t guarantee the timing of next year’s tax bills at this point, “because we can’t say whether we will get the multiplier on time,” she said.
Mahomet-Seymour Superintendent Lindsey Hall called this year’s tax cycle a “debacle.”
As the new fiscal year began, “it is not a pretty picture for us,” she said.
The Mahomet-Seymour district was owed just under $8.7 million in property-tax disbursements in May and June, and got only $4.3 million by June 30, she said.
“Not receiving that amount of property-tax revenue is devastating to us,” Hall said. “When it became apparent we would fall significantly short of the $8.7 million we were owed by June 30, my board of education passed a resolution on June 30 so that, if necessary, we could issue tax-anticipation warrants in order to pay our employees and pay our bills.”
Hall said she wasn’t expecting answers from the county board, but she did leave the board with a question about whether superintendents can expect a delay in taxes again.
She also asked county officials to do a better job of keeping taxing districts in the loop.
“Our experience this spring was such that we were not receiving reliable information,” she said.
White said this was the first time in 24 years he’s seen his school district fail to receive the amount of first-installment property-tax money it expected on time.
School district budgets for the past year “got whacked” and show a deficit, he said.
“If you don’t know,” he told the county board, “the school budget runs from July 1 to June 30, and most of us rely heavily on the idea of early property-tax money.”
White stressed Wednesday that he’s not looking to blame anybody. He just wants an answer to this question: “Is this the new normal?”
That’s a pressing issue right now, because school district fiscal 2020 budgets have to be reported to the state by Sept. 30. He wondered if he could count on getting the property-tax disbursements he’ll need next spring.
“We just want communication. That’s what we want,” White said.
Foster said the county is well aware of fiscal years ending June 30 and the need to have property-tax money in hand by then.
“I’ve been here 24 years, and we’ve not had tax bills go out late before,” she said.
The treasurer’s office made two tax distributions in June, with the second one being much larger than the first, Foster said. More disbursements are forthcoming.
“We have done our best to try and accommodate and get as much to them as we could,” she said.
Joining White and Hall at the meeting were the superintendents from Unit 7 schools in Tolono; the St. Joseph grade school and St. Joseph-Ogden high school districts; Heritage; Thomasboro; Fisher; and Gifford.